Pre-K expansion creates more opportunities for students in Meck County

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — More than 1,000 families are enrolling their child in MECK Pre-K this year. MECK Pre-K is a free program funded by Mecklenburg County.

Victoria Robinson said she wants her 4-year-old son, Preston, to have the best start possible.

Her family met the requirements to enroll him into MECK Pre-K this year. Most private pre-kindergarten schools can cost hundreds of dollars per week, which is out of the question for Robinson.

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“If MECK Pre-K didn't come around, I really wouldn't have been able to afford pre-K,” said Robinson.

MECK Pre-K started last year. Its director, Trinisha Dean, said some students were testing low when they enrolled.

“We're seeing families, children come in and they're testing sometimes as low as a 2-and-a-half-year age level. And so, when we do the post, they're close to 4-year-old or maybe a little bit more,” said Dean.

Dean said those initial tests can be really discouraging, but the free MECK Pre-K program, now in its second year, focuses on creating more early education opportunities.

This year, MECK Pre-K changed income requirements so more families could enroll their children. For a single parent with one child, it's $50,730. For a family of four to qualify, their annual income must be less than $77,250.

“There were several families last year that when we did that income eligibility it was literally just a couple hundred dollars over, and we weren’t able to serve them because of that,” said Dean.

In July, the county increased the MECK Pre-K budget to $16 million. They were able to increase enrollment from 600 students last year to 1,242 this year. The program is also hiring additional teachers and adding more classrooms.

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Three new classrooms are opening at Gateway Academy in Huntersville. It already has a waitlist.

Margie Kelly, of Gateway Academy, said students will be tested throughout the year to track their performance.

Kelly said they typically see big gains by the end of the year.

“These children will leave pretty much pre-reading, which is exciting to see. Even with our skill-based learning, the children are adding like, one and one correspondents, and that's super exciting to see,” Kelly said.

Even though Robinson believes her son is on the right track, she thinks the MECK Pre-K education this year will help get him ready for kindergarten.

“I believe there will be a big change from now from where he is tested from where he ends up. I have an older child and I’ve seen the growth in him,” said Robinson.

Mecklenburg County said it's working with a vendor to evaluate the success of MECK Pre-K. They are currently reviewing stats from last year, looking at child development growth, class scores and other programmatic data. The county said it also plans to develop a database and public results should be ready next year.

There are still spots available in MECK Pre-K.  Enrollment ends Sept. 4. Click here to enroll and learn about the eligibility requirements.

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